A former immigrant fighting for unpaid wages earned in Dunedin is slamming the Government for the time it took to investigate his now bankrupt employer.
In April last year, The Star reported Anmol Singh, an immigrant from India, was fighting to get outstanding pay he had earned while working nearly two years as assistant manager of a central Dunedin service station.
Dunedin company DDPV Ltd leased the station. The sole director of DDPV Ltd was Dmitry Mochalkin, of Auckland.
Mr Singh alleges the company had failed to pay him entitlements worth more than $20,000, including owed leave, lieu days and about 230 hours of unpaid wages.
Mr Singh was in Dunedin on a work visa but when the station closed in July 2017, he was jobless.
Consequently, his work visa renewal was declined and he was deported to India in late April last year.
In an email to The Star from India, Mr Singh said he complained to the Labour Inspectorate about his employer on two separate occasions, about the same time the station closed, in mid-2017.
He understood the inspectorate staff had referred his case to Employment Relations Authority (ERA) to investigate.
When he failed to hear back from the inspectorate or authority, he put out a plea on social media for help.
An employment advocate in Dunedin made a complaint on Mr Singh’s behalf to the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment in August 2017.
About four months ago, he was emailed by the inspectorate about Mr Mochalkin being declared bankrupt.
Mr Singh questioned why the Government failed to launch an investigation in mid-2017.
“The inspectorate knew that my employer owed me money so why did it take so long on my case?”
When he first alerted the ministry, Mr Mochalkin was running three service stations in New Zealand.
“I’ve been waiting for my money from two years but in the end I’ve got nothing.”
Inspectorate regional manager Jeanie Borsboom said the ministry received calls from Mr Singh in mid-2017.
The case was closed on the understanding Mr Singh would take it to the ERA himself, she said.
In November 2017, the ministry received another complaint about DDPV Ltd from an employment advocate about wider breaches by the business and an investigation was opened.
The inspectorate made several requests to meet Mr Singh “but that didn’t happen until April 26, 2018”.
Mr Mochalkin did not respond to the inspectorate’s requests for records to enable it to calculate arrears.
“It wasn’t until September 2018 that the inspectorate received some records from the court-appointed liquidator, after the company went into liquidation in August 2018.”
The inspectorate could seek to hold anyone involved personally liable and in some cases, seek arrears and penalties.
However, as Mr Mochalkin was declared bankrupt in October 2018, this option became untenable.
The Insolvency and Trustee Service advised the inspectorate it was not able to continue proceedings against Mochalkin for any debts owed as he did not own any assets and, as such, had no ability to pay penalties and arrears.
University of Otago Faculty of Law Prof Paul Roth, of Dunedin, said it was not easy for an employee to get money owed after an insolvency, even when they were living within jurisdiction.
The Insolvency Act 2006 states employees were preferential creditors if wages and holiday pay amounted up to nearly $24,000.
Laws existed to protect employees “and in a perfect world they might even work”.
“The burden of enforcement for a lot of our labour laws, however, lies with workers themselves.”